Migratory Notes 116

Elizabeth Aguilera
May 23 · 13 min read

Solitary detention, border vigilantes, Peter Schey

Trump is planning his wall in the Rio Grande floodplain. Is it a deluge waiting to destroy? The Texas Observer reports on what could go wrong. Photo by Gus Bova of a painting of 2010 flood in Roma, Texas.

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He is known nationally as a crusader for immigrant kids and argued the Supreme Court case that created the Flores Agreement guidelines for detaining children. But in Los Angeles he mistreated many of the kids he has been hailed for protecting. Lawyer Peter Schey’s shelter for the “most vulnerable” migrant kids, Casa Libre, has received 143 citations from the state, a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed. Former residents charged that they were left hungry, bitten by bugs, locked out, and subject to violence. Cindy Carcamo and Paloma Esquivel reviewed hundreds of documents and interviewed two dozen former employees and residents that showed Schey, L.A.’s pro-bono advisor on immigration issues and a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s treatment of kids who inspects government shelters, has a very troubling record. “I understand you are helping us and we are grateful, but we need a place to stay,” one former resident said he told Schey. “We need food.”

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists analyzed more than 8,400 records describing the placement of immigrant detainees in solitary confinement. The reporting was done in collaboration over five months with Grupo SIN in the Dominican Republic, Plaza Pública in Guatemala; Mexicanos contra la Corrupciónin Mexico; and NBC News, The Intercept and Univision in the U.S. The investigation found that the agency frequently puts migrants in solitary confinement, often for reasons unrelated to disciplinary problems, including mental illness, In doing so, ICE has been violating its own rules that encourage discretion. More than half the detentions lasted longer than 15 days and were determined to be “inhumane and degrading” by the UN. The offenses triggering isolation included consensual kissing or to separate LGBTQ detainees or hunger strikers.

The Labor Department has opened more than 18,000 investigations into the farm work industry in the past decade but workers in Texas rarely get the wages they are due, finds an investigation from the San Antonio Express-News. Part of a broader series, the story also provides an interactive map of investigations nationwide. Six of the 10 U.S. ZIP codes with the most investigations over the last 20 years are in Hidalgo County in South Texas, a national nexus for farm labor contractors.

Migrant Deaths
Sixteen-year-old Carlos Hernandez Vasquez died in CBP custody Monday after being held in detention for more than a week, exceeding regulations of 72 hours. He is the sixth migrant child to have died in custody, or soon after being released, in the last year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the previously unreported death of a 10-year-old Salvadoran girl in custody in September 2018, reports CBS News. The child, who had congenital heart defects, died after a surgery left her in a comatose state. The five other children who have died were indigenous Guatemalans.

The lack of food and water during the journey can put migrants at higher risk, so nurses at a volunteer shelter in Las Cruces, New Mexico emphasize the need for thorough medical checks, reports PRI’s The World. On Tuesday, CBP decided to temporarily close the processing center in McAllen, Texas where Hernandez Vasquez was held, reports AP.

There are no statistics on how many people die crossing the northern border with Canada, but the “number of southbound migrants apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol nearly doubled over two years to more than 4,300 in fiscal 2018, and officials on both sides (of the U.S.-Canada border) say they are seeing more serious injuries and illnesses,” Selena Ross writes in The Washington Post. In April, Wilson Reynosa Vega, a father from the Dominican Republic, died after trying to cross into the U.S. from Canada to see his daughter living in Philadelphia.

DHS is considering a plan to fly migrants to cities all over the country to release them after processing, reports NBC News. The government says these flights, which cost between $20,000 and $60,000, are a necessary response to a growing number of asylum seekers overwhelming services at the border, reports CBS. But Florida lawmakers are pushing back, saying local governments will be unable to meet migrants’ housing and transportation needs, reports NBC News.

DHS wants to redirect $232 million from the Transportation Security Administration to attend to the increase in asylum seekers at the border, reports NBC News. This could lead to longer wait times for travelers in airports. Of the $1.57 billion that Congress appropriated for a border wall last year, only 1.7 miles of fencing have been built, reports Bloomberg.

Prosecutors, arguing that attitudes toward migrants as “subhuman” and “savage” are common within Border Patrol culture, have asked a judge to allow offensive and racist text messages to be used as evidence in the trial of CBP agent Matthew Bowen, who hit a Guatemalan migrant with his truck, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

Agents from the Secret Service have been sent to the border and more could be sent in coming weeks as part of a DHS effort to increase the presence of law enforcement agencies at the border, reports The Daily Beast.

Border Vigilantes
After the right-wing vigilante group United Constitutional Patriots were evicted from their border-area camp in April, they regrouped to form the Guardian Patriots, reports The Intercept. They have since shifted their focus from patrolling the border while armed to recording and uploading videos of Border Patrol as they apprehend migrants in an effort to portray an “invasion” by migrants. The group previously raised money through online fundraising platforms but has since been banned. Court documents obtained by The Daily Beast allege that spokesperson Jim Benvie falsely claimed to be raising money for a child with cancer. He was not formally charged for the allegations.

Remain in Mexico
The tally of asylum seekers returned to Mexico while their immigration cases are in process has reached nearly 6,000 asylum seekers, reports CNN. Migrants from vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, transgender people and parents with disabled children, are among those who have been sent back, reports the LA Times. These migrants were originally told they would only have to wait 45 days in Mexico, but, in reality, they are facing wait times of up to a year, reports BuzzFeed News. More than 2,400 people have been sent back to Juarez, but only one judge is hearing their cases in El Paso.

Trump Administration
Acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan thwarted Stephen Miller’s efforts to shake-up DHS, reports The Washington Post. Trump and McAleenan met this week with former Virginia attorney general and immigration hardliner Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who DHS is expected to hire soon for a yet-to-be-defined role overseeing immigration policy, reports The New York Times. Cuccinelli has supported revoking birthright citizenship and firing employees who don’t speak English.

Enforcement in Mexico
In Mexico detentions and deportations of migrants, mainly Central Americans, increased by 150 percent this year, reports AP. To address the increase in migrants Mexico has begun searching for property to build a new shelter in the southern state of Chiapas. Asylum applications in Mexico have also increased and are likely to reach 60,000 by the end of the year, double the number last year, reports Reuters. In response, Mexican immigration agency COMAR has asked the UN to help the country open three new offices.

For a long-term solution, Mexican president Andres Manuel López Obrador instructed the foreign minister to try to work with the U.S. to address the root causes of Central American migration. He suggested redirecting funds currently spent on the controversial Merida Plan to fight the drug war in Mexico to instead invest in development projects in Mexico and Central America, reports Reuters. “We no longer want cooperation for security forces. We don’t want the Merida Plan, we don’t want helicopters mounted with machine guns. We want cooperation for development,” Lopez Obrador said.

The number of ICE detainees has exceeded the 45,000 allowed by Congress, reaching a record high of more than 52,000 migrant detainees, reports BuzzFeed News. ICE is considering adding more than 5,000 beds by opening or expanding three detention centers in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Family Separation
Jason Rochester, a Trump voter from Georgia, has turned into an unlikely immigration advocate after seeing how hardline immigration policies have torn apart his family. In 2018, his wife Cecilia returned to her native Mexico after living in the U.S. for two decades, reports the LA Times. She chose to return rather than let her 4-year-old son Ashton see her hauled away. Now, she parents with Jason from afar as Ashton battles cancer.

Visas & Citizenship
Since 2015, more Brazilians, Mexicans and Venezuelans have received the EB-5 visa, which grants green cards to entrepreneurs who invest at least $500,000 in job creation in the U.S., reports Bloomberg. While the program is meant to promote investment in the U.S., some accuse wealthy immigrants of using it to fraudulently buy a green card. An estimated 2,000 Latin Americans are expected to receive the visa in the next three years, double since 2018.

Asian Americans are the least likely to complete the census, reports PRI’s The World. They are also the fastest growing undocumented immigrant population, making experts worry that they will be the population most affected if a citizenship question is added to the census.

Since March, more than 570,000 employers have been notified by the Social Security Administration that their employees’ names do not match their Social Security numbers, a practice that was officially suspended in 2012 because of litigation, reports The New York Times. Employers, mainly in construction, hospitality and agriculture, are now considering whether to act on the notifications or risk fines by ignoring them.

Two out of three immigrants detained before their deportation hearings don’t have a lawyer, which greatly decreases their chances of being able to remain in the country, reports Wisconsin Watch. Analyzing data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), Natalie Yahr found that Wisconsin “immigrants who had lawyers were more than six times as likely to be allowed to stay in the country as those without. Nearly 55% of those with lawyers were allowed to stay compared to 9% of immigrants without lawyers.” Nationwide the numbers are similar. The project also looks into local initiatives across the country to provide representation to immigrants in detention.

In New York City’s court system, the busiest in the country, judges say their jobs are more politicized than ever, reports WNYC. The Trump administration has set unrealistic expectations, including completing 700 cases per year. Judges with different backgrounds — former ICE or Justice Department officials, former immigration lawyers, or judges with no experience in immigration court — all handle the pressures differently.


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*Daniela Gerson is a co-founder and the editor of Migratory Notes. She is an assistant professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge and West Coast Director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media(CCEM) at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York (CUNY). Previously she was a community engagement editor at the LA Times; editor of a trilingual hyperlocal publication, Alhambra Source; staff immigration reporter for the New York Sun; and a contributor to outlets including WNYC: New York Public Radio, The World, Der Spiegel, Financial Times, CNN, and The New York Times. She recently wrote The Grand Refugee Hotel: The Sequel to My Grandfather’s Germany for Refugees Deeply. You can find her on Twitter @dhgerson

*Elizabeth Aguilera is a co-founder and the executive editor of Migratory Notes. She is a multimedia reporter for CALmatters covering health care policy and social services, including immigration. Previously she reported on community health, for Southern California Public Radio. She’s also reported on immigration for the San Diego Union-Tribune, where she won a Best of the West award for her work on sex trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico; and worked for the Denver Post covering urban affairs and immigration. One of her recent stories was “Because we punch above our weight:” Gov. Newsom says California deserves bigger say in U.S. immigration policy. You can find her on Twitter@1eaguilera

*Yana Kunichoff is a special projects editor for Migratory Notes. She currently covers public education for Chalkbeat Chicago. She was project manager for Migrahack 2016 in Chicago. She has also produced feature-length documentaries and a pop-culture web series for Scrappers Film Group; worked as a fellow with City Bureau, where she won a March 2016 Sidney Hillman award for an investigation into fatal police shootings; and covered race and poverty issues for the Chicago Reporter. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Chicago magazine among others. You can find her on Twitter @yanazure

*Anna-Cat Brigida is a staff writer for Migratory Notes. She is a freelance reporter covering immigration and human rights in Mexico and Central America. She began covering immigration as a journalism student at USC Annenberg and later moved to Central America to work as a reporter. She has covered the region since 2015 and has been based in El Salvador since January 2018. She has also worked as a Spanish-language writer for Fusion out of the Mexico City office. Her work has appeared in Washington Post, The Guardian, Univision, LA Times, and Al Jazeera, among others. You can find her on Twitter@AnnaCat_Brigida

*Migratory Notes Advisory Board: Daniel Connolly, Maria Kari, Dan Kowalski, Paola Marizán, Mirta Ojito, Roberto Suro, Phuong Ly, Fernanda Santos

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we publish a weekly concise and insightful guide to immigration news.

Elizabeth Aguilera

Written by

Health/Social Services reporter @CALmatters, co-founder of #MigratoryNotes. I carry a mic & a pen. Prev: @KPCC @SDUT, @DenverPost. elizabeth@calmatters.org

Migratory Notes

At a time of rapidly shifting policies, we publish a weekly concise and insightful guide to immigration news.

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